TOKYO The international body that oversees whaling faces a critical year and could stop meeting if a bid to bridge the gulf between pro- and anti-whaling nations fails, a senior Japanese fisheries official said Tuesday.
Member nations of the International Whaling Commission have set up subsidiary groups to try to reach a compromise between the two sides, but it is unclear whether they can make progress.
"This year is a moment of truth for the IWC," Joji Morishita, a counselor with Japan's Fisheries Agency, told reporters. "This is almost a final try. If we fail, we will need a cooling-off period."
That could mean meetings stop for several years, he said.
Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 treaty, with which Japan officially complied. But the Japanese government is fiercely protective of its right to continue what it calls a scientific whaling program, saying killing whales is no different from slaughtering any other animal.
Its whaling fleet is currently engaged in its annual Antarctic whale hunt, aimed at catching about 900 whales.
The hunt is vehemently opposed by other nations, including Australia and Britain, who want the IWC to become purely a conservation body rather than returning to the controlled hunting whalers want.
"There are no dialogues, it's just shouting matches sometimes," Morishita said of annual IWC meetings.
Japan has frequently threatened to quit the IWC, but Morishita denied that Japan would be better off if the IWC were to collapse.
"We need a framework for international cooperation, exchanging data, analyzing the stock situation and establishing mutual rules," Morishita said. "We are responsible and we will continue to be so."
The IWC is set to hold its 61st annual meeting in Madeira in June.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds)